Pakistan is dangerous for journalists. This is especially true for northwestern Pakistan, inhabited by the Pathans, or Pushtuns, a tribal people. Journalists from outside can rarely visit the Tribal Areas, risking attack by militant groups if they do. The result has been a news blackout in the Tribal Areas and remote areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The outside world has little reliable news about the region and people living there have few trustworthy sources of information. Local news is reported in newspapers, but more than 40% of Pakistanis are illiterate. For women the rate is even higher. There is little local news about the northwest on television or radio. Another barrier is that media use three different languages – English, Urdu and Pushto.

Local radio for the Tribal Areas

In 2013 a local radio news service was established for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal Areas – the Tribal News Network (TNN). News bulletins are also available on TNN’s website in Pushto and English, both audio and text. The Tribal News Network has a broader agenda than just politics and security issues. Developments in health, education and business are also vital parts of their reports. TNN reported that children in one village became ill from dirty water. After the broadcast, the local authorities replaced rusted waterpipes. Residents have told TNN they now have clean water. In another village a school lacked a roof. When this was reported, local officials supplied three tents and the schoolchildren now study protected from the sun.

Free Press Unlimited has supported Tribal News Network in the production of news bulletins and provided training to improve the skills of editors and reporters. Since it began broadcasting in 2013, Tribal News Network has built a sound reputation, producing reliable news for a region where journalists often work at risk of their lives. Building on this, the network has expanded its coverage area and plans to provide a broader variety of news programmes.

Digital expansion

In 2018, the Tribal News Network will work on expanding its services, making the shift to a digital-first organization publishing and sharing local content in the form of audio-visuals, detailed stories and analyses, and audio interviews through the website. This approach will include the production of daily news bulletins on their Facebook page, as well as sharing multimedia stories on all their social media.

Breaking down barriers

The Tribal News Network continues to be dedicated in its work to breaking down traditional gender roles and stereotypes; hiring women as reporters in the strongly patriarchal society of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. Read about the first female reporter in the Federally Administered Tribal Area here. Taking their work against gender discrimination further, the Tribal News Network has recently hired a transgender woman as a program host.

Said Nazir, one of the co-founders of TNN, explains how local news helped the community.